I loved the last season of THE PRACTICE, which pitted amoral lawyer Alan Shore (James Spader) up against the dull, self-righteous, sanctimonious regular characters who survived David E. Kelley’s big cast purge. The last few episodes introduced William Shatner as pompous, egotistical, and perhaps demented lawyer Denny Crane. The episodes were funny, sharp and surprising. I wish I could say the same about the spin-off, BOSTON LEGAL. What made it work last season was the contrast/conflict between the deadly-serious old PRACTICE characters and Spader, who undercut them at every turn. But in this series, everybody is wacky and broad… there’s no one left for Spader to play off of. And without those “serious” characters to ground things, Shatner’s Denny Crane also loses most, if not all, of his comic punch. That said, I thought critic Robert Lloyd summed up the pleasures of watching Spader & Shatner at work…
Spader’s Alan Shore is a kind of happy, unflappable sociopath — perfect qualities for a trial lawyer, one might say — given to dumb smiles, soft-spoken barbs and an unhurried, deliberate way of moving. Whereas most television characters are constructed and played so that you know exactly what they’re thinking as they think it, and what they’re going to do before they do it, Shore (though you can at least expect him to do the right thing in the wrong way) remains enigmatic. By giving up so little, Spader makes him that much more interesting.
Spader’s appeal is peculiarly nonsexual; his real chemistry here is with Shatner. Indeed, there’s something sort of Kirk and Spock about them — Shatner puffed up like a blowfish, Spader deadpan and not quite of this Earth.
Aged an unbelievable 73, Shatner delivers a typically big performance, but one perfectly appropriate to a character who conceives of himself as larger than life. Yet at the same time, it’s his most modest work ever. Shatner has an unusual ability to play off his own pompousness, which makes him extremely likable, and for all kinds of reasons, not the least of them having to do with one’s memories of earlier Shatners, he is a joy to watch — that certain joy of watching the actor and the character at the same time.